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Charter school preview

In Indiana, this video from an Arizona news station might best be labeled "Coming soon to a school near you."

It's the account of a young English teacher fired from her job at Imagine Prep charter school because of the left-leaning bumper stickers on her car. According to the teacher, the school principal supported her when a parent complained, but she was fired by the regional director for Imagine Inc. The Virginia-based for-profit company operates charter schools across the country, including four in Indiana.

The teacher said she was told the interpretation of the bumper stickers didn't fit in with the "culture of their community."

Dennis Bakke, the former energy company mogul who founded Imagine Inc., is best known for the memo he sent to school administrators reminding them that the schools belong to the company, not to the local school boards:

"I suggest that Imagine boards and board members have two significant roles," Bakke wrote. "The first is to 'affirm' (vote FOR if legally required) significant items like our selection of the Principal and the budget (if you 'need' to give them veto power over our proposed principal, then that would be okay although I don't think in most cases it is essential that they be given that power (check the State law).

"Legally, I believe 'affirming' is the same as voting 'yes'. The difference is the assumption that we have made a 'recommendation' or decision and want the board to agree formally with that decision. . . . in non legal issues of judgment, we expect them to argue the issue vigorously, but if they can't convince us to change our position, we expect them to vote for our proposal. It is our school, our money and our risk, not theirs."

That part about "our money"? Not so much. The fact is, a good deal of it is your money.

Here in Fort Wayne, we've seen firsthand how Bakke's philosophy is applied with the boards overseeing two Imagine elementary schools, although Ball State University is finally exercising much more vigorous oversight as charter sponsor, as we learned today. Of course, that's likely why the pro-charter administration in Indiana is pushing to bypass Ball State and give charter sponsorship authority to a hand-picked state board and to private universities with no accountability to taxpayers.

Prepare to read and watch plenty of stories like this Arizona tale. With House Bill 1002, the livelihoods of teachers and administrators will be at the mercy of charter operators like Dennis Bakke.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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